Highly-touted young British violinist Jack Liebeck has already made quite a splash on the classical music scene. He has had numerous collaborations with musicians and ensembles of international repute, and his Oxford May Music Festival, in only its second year, attracted such acclaimed artists as pianist Yevgeny Sudbin and violist Lawrence Power. Liebeck's rapidly growing reputation has now been cemented with a long-term, exclusive recording deal with Sony Classical. This, his debut release with the label, is an all-Dvořák programme featuring the composer's three 'major' works for violin.
Upon hearing the Violin Concerto in A minor, Op. 53, there is little doubt that we are reckoning with a fearsome technique and crystalline tone production. These are abundantly evident in the sweeping violin declamations that open the work, authoritatively rendered by Liebeck. The central Adagio, ma non troppo features attractive interplay between the soloist and Garry Walker's polished Royal Scottish National Orchestra, whilst the Finale brims with folk-inspired playfulness. Yet, whilst this interpretation is sprinkled with a smattering of shrewdly conceived subtleties, the overall effect fails to sparkle. Liebeck's timbre tends to deal only in primary colours, lacking the sufficient shading that would bring the dichotomous contrasts of Dvořák's music fully to life. The result is a tug-of-war between resplendence and relentlessness, in which the latter emerges victorious.
The music for violin and piano is an entirely different matter. From the dulcet tones that announce the Violin Sonata in F, Op. 57, the often-overbearing assertiveness of Liebeck's concerto performance gives way to vivid and instinctive artistry. Liebeck certainly seems much more at ease with the immediacy of Katya Apekisheva's exquisite accompaniment. The Brahmsian grandeur of the first movement is captured with opulent elegance, and the closing Allegro molto abounds with delightful innocence and pent-up exuberance. The more deliberate dumka-like themes in this movement are characterised with apposite care and sensitivity, as is the Poco sostenuto that lies at the core of the Sonata. Throughout the work, Apekisheva proves to be an ardent supporter of counterpoint, magnificently elucidating Dvořák's melodic, quasi-Schubertian bass lines.
The superlative music-making continues in the G-major Sonatina, Op. 100, written in 1893 during the composer's three-year sojourn in the United States. Dvořák's music from this period – the 'American' String Quartet in F major, Op. 96 and the 'New World' Symphony, Op. 95 also spring readily to mind – ingeniously retains an almost improvisational aura that belies its meticulous construction. Liebeck and Apekisheva bring this impromptu element to the fore, delivering a rendition of charismatic spontaneity that gives justifiable weight to a work that some might consider of lesser significance in the composer's oeuvre. There is plenty to acclaim here, from the pentatonic perkiness of the Scherzo to the high-octane, pulse-pounding account of the rambunctious Finale. Most impressive, however, is the distinction between pathos and nostalgia in the Larghetto, firmly establishing this movement as the emotional nucleus of the Sonatina.
So how can the disparity between Liebeck's performance with orchestra and those with piano be explained? Perhaps one answer lies in the fact that the Concerto was recorded in January 2005, nearly two years before the duo music. Now nearly half-a-decade removed from this account, it is likely that Liebeck would have a greater arsenal of tonal colouring with which to tackle the work. Indeed, the development that is evident between the Concerto and the music for violin and piano is both palpable and deeply encouraging. Such a rate of betterment suggests that Jack Liebeck is a violinist who will have much to offer in the coming years. Watch this space.
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